Kristaps Porzingis, outmuscling opponents
The news out of New York is that Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t solely avoiding Phil Jackson over the summer, an easy task considering he was over 4,000 miles away in Latvia. The wiry new number one for the Knicks is getting to his spots and there’s good reason it.
For five hours a day back home, the big man was working on his strength and conditioning and as you’re seeing is now able to get to where he wants to shoot, not where he has to. There are more post touches and more plays designed specifically for him through the eyes of early surprise Jarrett Jack and Enes Kanter.
Oh how fun it is to listen to KP worm his way around questions about how different it is in New York without Carmelo Anthony. What do you want him to say? “I love it! That man is a ball hog and I need my touches!”
Anthony’s departure is important for Porzingis’ development but that’s discrediting the youngster. Five 30-point performances already, he’s acting more like a leader, playing his way into the top five scorers in the league and, oh yeah, is eligible to sign a rookie extension next summer. Who’s buying that he will stay in New York? Over to you, Steve Mills. Build a good team around KP or he’ll be gone.
A young coach and younger players, doing well
Baby-faced Brad Stevens is leading NBA teenies to success after the most traumatic start the Celtics could have asked for. Gordon Hayward was lost for the season five minutes after it started, Marcus Morris hasn’t played a minute yet and the three-point weapon was all but lost with the departures of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder.
Parents understand the challenges of not being able to get kids to eat their greens during dinner, which is definitely the same thing as getting young NBA players to give a damn on defense. Extra dessert for you, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum!
The Celtics lead the league in defensive rating and are fifth in defensive rebounding, a horror show for them since Al Horford joined. That’s incredible.
The love-in between Stevens and Gregg Popovich the other night in Boston was super cute, father and son chatting over their wonderful projects. It was also another sign of Stevens’ star in this league. He’s a special coach and has the respect of everyone around him. Even the babies!
Don’t mess with this Magic
Orlando. The second best offense in the NBA.
I’m not kidding!
The Magic are leading the league in three-point percentage and are third in pace behind the on-floor leadership of DJ Augustin, the calming presence of Evan Fournier and power forward Aaron Gordon finally doing power forward things. Aside from shooting nearly 60% from deep, he can sustain what he’s currently doing.
Jonathon Simmons is a great addition and is surely more valuable than his replacement in San Antonio, Rudy Gay. Jonathan Isaacs, the sixth pick in this year’s draft, is showing good signs and will be fun to watch when he plays more minutes with Gordon and Simmons. Orlando are about to get Elfrid Payton back and seeing as they are finally winning, most definitely should not bring him back into the starting lineup. This is what they call mojo, Magic.
Frank Vogel has told his men to push the ball and they now have the invaluable option to run an offense without a point guard; Terrence Ross, Fournier and Simmons an intriguing back court.
Stay tuned for this one.
Domantas Sabonis, Russell Westbrook free!
Domantas Sabonis is not the only player to be petrified by Russell Westbrook over the years. Anyone who missed a shot from a Westbrook pass during the triple double festival last year had to deal with the angriest fashionista around. Sabonis, now in Indiana, is playing in the post and getting more touches that lead to acts of individualism. With Victor Oladipo back home and the Pacers surviving without Myles Turner (out with a concussion), they’ve been another surprising starter.
The Pacers won’t keep this up, but Sabonis can.
Andre Drummond’s contact phobia
The Pistons have already beaten the Clippers and Warriors on the road, which is a great achievement.
Their big center, Andre Drummond, is a man mammoth, unless of course you touch him. Drummond’s free throw improvement has been well documented, but it’s no use if he refuses to take contact and get to the line.
He’s a strange player given his size and talent. Whether it’s a screen, offensive rebound or just pure hustle, the man needs to get physical if Detroit wants to snag a late playoff spot. The positive, however, is that the internal grumblings that plagued this 37-win team last year seem to have subsided.
It feels like we are now in year 10 of the Stan Van Gundy project. It’s now or never for the Pistons to win and Drummond, at his size, to pancake an opponent.
J.R. Smith, coasting
The Cavaliers are an awful defensive team. They have a roster averaging an age of 30, the oldest in the league. God forbid 30 is old anywhere else in life by the way!
Of all their problems - benched Jae Crowder can’t get in rhythm, Derrick Rose is not a championship fit - it’s that man J.R. Smith who’s the biggest question mark.
Kept busy this week squabbling with Stephen A. Smith, the Cavs’ Smith looks like a man comfortable in the knowledge he will be holding hands with LeBron James all the way to the Finals. His defense has plummeted, a bigger issue considering he was one of the team’s best perimeter defenders last year.
Remember, before Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history, Smith nailed clutch shot after clutch shot following half-time in game seven against the Warriors two seasons ago, a massive reason his team ultimately won. Smith, who’s always in the headlines one way or the other, holds value for a Cavs team that must have good wing shooting, a defender to contain Steph Curry or Klay Thompson and some guts.
Smith has all the attributes but none of the focus so far.
The frustrating NBA code
Another Cavalier issue, and nothing to do with Halloween - who are the Oompa Loompa’s, Kyle Korver?
Why did Dwyane Wade ever start? Word out of Cleveland is Tyronne Lue didn’t want to start Wade - no surprise, really - but understood that he needed to for the betterment of the team’s chemistry. His addition has confused the likes of J.R. Smith and Jae Crowder. Why do they need him? Is he just there to hang with James?
Strange addition. Wade needs the ball and is now the dominant runner in bench units. Everything comes back to the Warriors and Wade’s age - 35 - speed and lack of defensive skills are a big worry.
At least he’ll be good company for King James on the plane, right?
The Gasol we know and love (nowadays)
Remember when Pau Gasol was the only Gasol brother worth talking about?
Not the case anymore. Just watch Marc play from the post these days, where David Fizdale runs the Grizzlies offense through. It’s the Spaniard and four dudes surrounding the wing. Fizdale turned Gasol into a confident three-point gunner last year and has now given him the open floor to spin, juke, up-fake and launch soft floaters around the rim. His repertoire of offensive moves is a sight to behold.
Memphis are finishing games with Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers and James Ennis III. Gasol is one of the true MVPs of this league.
Ben Simmons, the master of layup
This guy is everything we thought he would be, and more. Length. Big strides. An instant connection with Joel Embiid, even though the two have barely played together.
Opponents are showing Simmons multiple coverages on defense, slipping under picks and allowing him to shoot. The Aussie won’t take anything from anywhere outside the elbow but has mastered slaloming into the lane and letting off an arcing floater/layup shot that is worth tuning into League Pass for. It’s unblockable at his size and there’s no doubt more in the bag of tricks to come.
If Embiid and Simmons can stay healthy and Dario Saric plays alongside - the Kevin Love of this team right now - we will witness more new ways to play basketball.
Sunday Night Feist Night
Into the third week of the NBA season, we’ve all had our go at overreacting. It’s a fun time.
With the Eastern Conference in mind, the one team that can truly compete with the Cavaliers are Washington.
Why? Because they aren’t scared or intimidated. More on them next week after the Wizards host the Cavs Friday.
Who knew, by the way, that Cleveland hosting Atlanta would mean anything in November? The Cavs have already lost to the Magic, Pelicans, Nets, Knicks and Pacers, but that would be an almighty and embarrassing defeat.